Haji Pir Pass is a vital geographical feature on the western Pir Panjal ranges that stride across Indian-occupied Kashmir and Azad Kashmir. This makes it strategic enough for both sides to vie for control whenever an opportunity presents itself. The Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir into being occupied by India or administrated by Pakistan is a ‘temporary’ feature, identifying the geographical boundary of the areas that are held by the two armies. It therefore keeps changing with every war and whenever both sides trade posts and heights.
Even when there is no war like situation, there remains a continuous effort to ‘improve’ positions, resulting in small tactical operations that include routine artillery firing, as well as raids in conjunction, aimed to evict the other and seize control of the commanding heights over strategic features.
Since a large part of this area is impassable and large-scale manoeuvres remain almost impossible, it essentially remains a battle for posts between India and Pakistan. These continue even as the two continues maintain a dialogue at the political level, enabling a semblance of peace, even if only at the surface.
Haji Pir has been traded between both sides in the two wars of 1965 and 1971 and in the period in between, for example in the Kargil episode which is a strategic area because that is where supplies to Siachen pass through.
It is not the physical control of these spaces but the control of the dominating heights around them that implicitly deliver the control of the spaces to the occupying side. Such remains the nature of the terrain.
2013 has dawned with similar attempts by both sides to gain positional advantage. Pakistan alleges that the Indian army attempted to gain control over a Pakistani post in the Buttle area by storming the post. Pakistan fiercely contested this aggression and forced Indian troops to retreat but not before suffering one casualty and three injured men. However, if this attempt had been successful, it would have placed the Indian army in a better position vis-a-vis the vital Haji Pir Pass that Pakistan holds. Two days later India alleged a similar Pakistani violation of the LoC and claimed that two of its soldiers had been killed, with serious charges of mutilation of the bodies by the Pakistani troops.
India went to town with these allegations. Its media gave hours of airtime to stir passions amid jingoistic bellowing openly demanding immediate retribution. It used this opportunity to bring back its most favoured chant of Pakistan being an irresponsible and rogue nation, unworthy of any respect among the nations of the world. The propaganda has been vicious; the timing intriguing and the warmongering relentless.
As India sounded the drums of war and maligned Pakistan insidiously, the Pakistani media was busy consumed with its own ‘playfulness’ of the internal political circus.
Most famously, the ceasefire across the LoC has been trumpeted about since the agreement in 2003 between both nations to institute it as a major confidence building measure (CBM). Yet, in 2012 alone there were at least 75 occasions when the ceasefire was violated by both sides through unprovoked shelling of the other. Both sides suffered at least eight to ten casualties by these exchanges of fire of small and medium arms. Artillery exchanges are not unknown. Yet, the ceasefire has been hailed as a major success at the international level by both nations. Clearly, they perceive war to be quite different from what is routine exchange of shells across the LoC; and they are right. But again, neither Kashmir nor the LoC has been as quiet as one assumes.
Indians relate such incidents of cross-border shelling to Pakistani attempts to force infiltrators through. They of course embellish their narratives further by associating terror with the Pakistani state and flaunt it relentlessly. If such a propagandistic streak irks global sensitivities about Pakistan’s nuclear status, and leads to a global pressure to unarm nuclear Pakistan, it will implicitly deliver to India the crown jewel of its national security objectives. It is long winded – true, but then what else are India’s options other than to conflate terrorism, internal instability, irrationality of the Pakistani mindset with manifestations as dastardly as slitting dead Indian soldiers, and a failing, rogue of a nation that has India and the entire world on tenterhooks.
Or, at least that is the essence of their media aggression. This then is the crux of the combo that India plays whenever it finds an opportunity. Minus Pakistani nukes, the ‘hegemon’ has a free ride in all manners of saying. Not only that, India dreams of it and, if ever realised, it will relish it.
Here are a couple of scenarios to consider: What if Pakistan were to be framed as a failed state with a fractious and feuding society; an inebriated polity; a broken economy without any indications of resuscitation, and a rogue army that perpetually rules the roost and nourishes terrorism as a home-grown commodity – the popular planks of propagating and instituting a belief of Pakistan as a failing state? Chances are someone out there would like to work towards that end by exploiting Pakistan’s vulnerabilities in all or most of these areas and keep it embroiled amid signs that over time entrench belief in the fidelity of such formulation.
The last twelve years, if not more, have seen Pakistan slide down the matrix of a stable state. A combination of the above indicators underwrites such debilitating characterisation. Twelve years down the line, after having been pushed into a devastating war at the cost of serious socio-economic fundamentals, Pakistan is just about reaching a more conclusive approach in dealing with this menace.
With the troops drawdown in Afghanistan enabling hope of the war coming to a closure there, Pakistan is now able to focus so much more on its internal challenges. Is it that someone out there would like Pakistan to continue to remain embroiled in a bleeding war against insurgencies, if those groups that have challenged the state are left unharmed?
That becomes probable if the Pakistan Army is forced to extricate its over 150,000 troops from the western regions to the Indian borders, again to contend with the rising possibility of a limited armed conflict. That way the insurgencies mushroom and Pakistan continues to remain stuck in the quagmire of internal challenges and willy-nilly is pushed closer to a state of failure under the weight of perpetual adversities. On a map of geo-political enactments, it isn’t a far-fetched possibility.
On the flip side, with the war in Afghanistan closing down, is there a possibility that heightened tensions in Kashmir and with India, can find an alternate employment for the various groups who till-date were conveniently engaged elsewhere, but will now be suitable diverted and found another occupation.
This might also save Pakistan another crippling engagement with another war on terror! The choice is India’s to determine its own way ahead. Beating war drums will become countervailing to their larger long-term interests.
For those who read too much into the recent doctrinal changes of the army, get back for another detailed reviewing. The conventional threat is well and alive.
The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff. Email: shhzdchdhry @yahoo.com